The making of Burberry’s special anniversary short film, The Tale of Thomas Burberry

Storytelling in Style – The making of Burberry’s special anniversary short film

When Burberry do something, as expected, they do it well and that includes marking their 160th anniversary. Of course this is done in style, as the much-loved, iconic British brand embraced and showcased their heritage via the short film, The Tale of Thomas Burberry.

N Glass Magazine - Issue 28 - Equality - Burberry Film_StoryPictureno3Dominic West in The Tale of Thomas Burberry. Photograph: courtesy of Burberry

The commemorative three-minute cinematic trailer-style film was produced especially for the anniversary and sees the best of the best in the movie business joining forces to tell the story of the brand’s founder, Thomas Burberry. The story takes you through Mr Burberry’s years, reimagining key events that have shaped the company’s history and values.

The stellar line up, both in front of and behind the camera, include Sienna Miller, Domhnall Gleeson, Lily James, Dominic West as well as director Asif Kapadia (Academy Award winner for Amy, and BAFTA Award winner for Amy, Senna and The Warrior), screenwriter Matt Charman (Academy Award-nominated screenwriter of Bridge of Spies), director of photography Dion Beebe (Academy Award-winning cinematographer for Memoirs of a Geisha) and Jenny Shircore on hair and make-up (Academy Award-winning make-up artist of Elizabeth).

Storypic_Glass Magazine,Issue 28 ,EqualityBurberry_Story_ImageNO1An image from the making of The Tale of Thomas Burberry. Photograph: courtesy of Burberry

“This Christmas, as we celebrate our 160th anniversary,” said Christopher Bailey, Chief Creative and Chief Executive Officer at Burberry, “we wanted to tell the story of Thomas Burberry – pioneer, inventor, innovator, and the man behind the iconic trench coat – in our own words. The film we have made is a brief glimpse inspired by his full and extraordinary life, which threaded its way through the history of the twentieth century in all its tumultuous highs and lows.

“To do justice to this story we turned to a team of truly great 21st century British talent: Asif Kapadia, a director whose work I admire enormously, and a cast of our brightest and our best actors: Domhnall Gleeson, Sienna Miller, Dominic West and Lily James. We feel very proud to be sharing The Tale of Thomas Burberry – his spirit and his vision are still at the heart of everything we do at Burberry today.”

Playing Burberry himself is Domhnall Gleeson, who said of his on-screen persona, “Thomas Burberry was a remarkable character. He was intensely gifted and very passionate about the real-world potential of what we wear and how it changes us. What he created has stood the test of time and influenced those who came after him – his work had such an impact and legacy after he was gone. I found that inspiring – it’s what most artists dream of. To be integral to the success of so many firsts in aviation, exploration, fashion etc. – it was a very inspiring role to play.

“The film also places real emphasis on the value of creativity and of making things which matter, and manages to do so while simultaneously telling the story of a man who achieved many amazing things, all in three minutes – that’s not bad!”

Joining Gleeson is Sienna Miller who stars as Thomas’s fictional first love;
Dominic West who plays Sir Ernest Shackleton, the pioneering polar explorer who wore Burberry gabardine for three Antarctic expeditions; and the latest Burberry model, Lily James, features as pilot Betty Dawson. Dawson is a fictionalised character inspired by the real life achievements of super-glamorous daredevil Betty Kirby-Green, who broke the world record in 1937 for a return flight from England to Cape Town in an aeroplane named ‘The Burberry’. (You will note the blue flying suit worn by Lily James is based on images of the exact one worn by Kirby-Green from the Heritage Archives).

Extraordinary real life moments re-enacted in the film include Thomas’s invention of the weatherproof fabric gabardine, dressing the military for World War I and outfitting polar explorers and pilots. The film was shot mostly in Shirburn Castle in Oxfordshire, and this proved to be the perfect backdrop – recreating Thomas’s workshop inspired by materials in the Burberry archive.

“It’s the story of Burberry the man,” says director Asif Kapadia. “A person who created a fabric, which created the label, which has become a huge fashion brand. The idea of the film was to show where it all began.

“The aim was to make a trailer for a film that we haven’t actually made. So to bring together all these epic moments of life, death, birth, love and relationships, and to go through time and to have various characters that would appear and reappear – it was about finding these epic movie moments that would then make the trailer.”

It is no wonder then that Burberry, who had their heart set on creating epic movie moments brimming with their brand aesthetics, didn’t disappoint. Not only did they depict the life of the founder beautifully, they also reinforce that the Burberry powerhouse is still as important today as it was back in 1856. The film provides truly epic and awesome scenes that transcend times, people and places, and it is easy to draw parallels with the famous trench coat itself – which, of course, stars dramatically and consistently throughout the film, and why wouldn’t it.

by Felicity Williams